Saturday, October 30, 2010


I'm a bit of a history buff. More than a bit, actually. If wool weren't so hot and scratchy, I'd be one of those guys giving up my weekends to re-enact Revolutionary War battles. (And may still end up there one of these days.) That said, I wouldn't want to live in Colonial America. Visit? Sure. I'd be first in line to hop in a time machine - preferably a Delorean - and head back to walk around, see the sights, experience some things first hand. But live there? Not a chance. Leaving aside the entire issue of wool being hot and scratchy, there are a host of other reasons why these are not times I want to live in. I like my modern conveniences, which should not surprise anyone as I sit here writing on my laptop, listening to a radio program, intending to publish this on the internet in a few minutes.

There is an exception to this general rule. Two, possibly. However, I'm only going to talk about one of them today. I would really haved liked to have been around for the Apollo Program. And I'd be willing to put up with all the craziness of the 60's to be able to watch even just one launch.

Mind you, I wouldn't mind being an astronaut, but I know full well I lack the right stuff. Starting with my vision. I still hold out hope that before I die there will be at the very least commerical low-Earth orbit flights into space, but that's as much as I am expecting. Even if I grew up expecting more than that (Arthur C. Clarke I blame you) I'm very aware that kids in the 1950's and even earlier grew up expecting jet packs. Which they don't have yet, either.

With the shuttle program winding down here, and no successor to it in sight, my brief hope that I might personally witness a moon launch is dwindling. There were leanings towards that for a few years, but between the economy and shifting priorities, I think that's all but dead for now.

Which disappoints me. So, I would gladly go back and live in the 1960's, despite the politics, the civil unrest, and the horrid fashion sense (especially at the end of the Apollo Program in the 1970's) to be able to watch one launch in all it's ground-shaking glory.

I've seen my share of shuttle launches. I grew up during the heydey of the program, when every launch was still televised, and confess that as long as I know when they will launch and can get to a television, I still watch them. Even on television, they are awesome. But, for as spectacular as they are, they lack that certain something of the Apollo launches. Different rockets, perhaps, but there's more to it.

Most of it is, I think, that sense of collective awe and wonder that held a nation (possibly even the world) spellbound as we sent these three-man crews into space. They weren't going very far, in astronomical terms, and yet... they were going to the moon. And for those lucky few who got to land there, they could stand on the surface of another world - small and lifeless though it may be - and look back at Earth. To be a part of that, if only as a spectator, to watch it unfold as it happens, that's something I'd like to be able to do.

(Okay, I take it back, I would want to be an astronaut. As long as we're delving into pure fantasy anyway, unless someone has my Delorean, I might as go all the way.)

So while there aren't too many places in history I'd be willing to live, that is one of the exceptions.

And in fairness, good wool clothes aren't very scratchy once you've broken them in.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bus Stop to Nowhere

There is a bus stop to nowhere. It sits outside a nursing home somewhere, and from time to time someone from inside wanders out to it. But no bus ever shows up, and no one ever goes anywhere (other than back into the home). In all other respects, it looks like a regular bus stop, and no doubt the people who wander out to it expect to go somewhere. They may not have any particular destination in mind, and even if they do it doesn't seem to bother them that the bus itself never shows.

As much as this might sound like the concept for a short story (or the initial set-up for some sort of bizarre anthology series, much the way Rod Serling would intro the Twilight Zone) it is completely non-fiction. The bus stop was the rather ingenious solution one nursing home came up with to keep their residents from wandering off. Before they put up their faux bus stop at the end of their sidewalk, when those residents afflicted with wanderlust would manage to slip out the doors, they would walk down the street to the actual bus stop, where they would congregate until someone from the home showed up to collect them. One or two of them might have even wound up on the bus.

Someone noticed that this was where the residents were winding up, and got the idea to put up the fake bus stop out in front of the nursing home. It seemed a much more simple and humane solution (and cost-efficient) than putting ankle bracelets on all the residents likely to wander. Surprisingly enough, it seems to work. They no longer have residents wandering down the street to a functional bust stop. They all congregate out front, where the staff can easily collect them. It seems to be enough for the residents that they manage to get that far.

It's a simple, elegant solution, and the reason why it works has to do with a number of psychological things that are not within my purview. What struck me about it, though, was that it was the sort of idea that we, as writers, are supposed to have. We're supposed to be good at looking at something - doesn't have to be a problem - and positing an unusual "what if" approach. Sometimes the answers will work, sometimes they won't. But it's the process of sitting around and playing with each idea, at least for a little bit, and giving it a chance to work that is just as important.

Somone could have, and probably did, laughed at the idea of a non-functioning bus stop as a preventative measure. And perhaps if there had been more funds for alarms and other traditional security measures, it would never have been built. But someone had the ability to look at the scenario and give it just the right sort of spin in their head to come up with an unusual, and ultimately effective, solution. And then they put it into practice, to see what would come of it. The most they would have been out was the funds and time for a bench and a sign.

The most we are out, as writers, when our ideas fall flat is the words on the page and the time it took to put them down. Like most writers, I have written my fair share of things that ultimately turned out not to work. But I've also had more that did, more times when I sat down and thought "what if" and approached something in a new (or new to me) way that might have seemed a bit unconventional at first. This is how, even though we are all told there are only five basic stories - at least I think it's supposed to be five - we are also told we can put our own spin on those five plots and make them work.

Yet I don't ever regard those words that didn't work as a waste (possibly an idea for another entry) even when they don't go anywhere. That, of course, is perhaps the irony of this comparison.

Unlike the bus stop to nowhere, when our ideas work they take us places.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I Blame the Little Undead Doggie

A fellow writer foisted this upon me, for no good reason I think other than my name alliterated nicely with his two other choices. But that's as good a reason as any, I suppose. Normally I eschew these kinds of things, as they remind me a little too much of those character profiles you're supposed to fill out. I've never seen much utility in those. If my character collects stamps, well, that's all well and fine if the story involves stamps or some crucial plot point hinges on knowing when the first Elvis stamp appeared. Otherwise, it's mostly just an exercise that doesn't put words on the pages.

On the other hand, the style question was too good to pass up.

1. If you could have any superpower, what would you have? Why?

Aquaman's. That whole super-swimming breathe underwater talk to the fishies thing. Or possibly Namor's. (I don't need to talk to fish, and flying in addition to swimming might be fun.) I just love the water, though, and that would be what I'd go with.

Assuming I can't get my hands on a power ring.

2. Who is your style icon?

Paul Bunyan. I embrace my inner flannel.

Writing? Raymond Chandler. Prose ought to alternate between being so crisp it snaps, and descriptive enough to envelop you in one of those famous noir fogs.

3. What is your favorite quote?

Without resorting to quoting Yoda, that would likely be the quote at the top of my blog. I rather like the idea of drawing on my inner child.

4. What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?

I was complimented once on my humanity. It would take too much to explain, but it was by far the best thing anyone has ever said to me.

5. What playlist/CD is in your CD Player/iPod right now?

A mix of the blues: Chris Thomas King, Robert Johnson, R.L. Burnside, etc. Tomorrow it might be something completely different.

6. Are you a night owl or a morning person?

Depends. Is it a school night or not?

7. Do you prefer dogs or cats?

I like both, but my cat has never rolled in something that smelled like it died in the Truman era and just kept getting riper. Cats are also easier when you rent, so until I can afford my house in the country, felines it is.

8. What is the meaning behind your blog name?

I explained this, way back when, in one of the very first posts. It was a curse made up by a co-worker. "May the fleas of a thousand camels infest your armpits." It stuck with me.

And, in the spirit in which this came to me, I foisted it upon others: